The Island of Barbuda, a small paradise in the Caribbean, has been facing a relentless assault on its communal land. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in 2017, which devastated 90 percent of the island, opportunistic investors and developers have descended upon Barbuda, threatening its pristine natural environment and the rights of its local Black residents.
This article explores the ongoing battle for communal land in Barbuda, shedding light on the struggle faced by its inhabitants and the environmental integrity of the island.
A Legacy of Communal Land Ownership
Barbuda’s Unique Land Tenure System
Barbuda stands out as the only island in the world where all land is entirely held in common by Barbudans. This centuries-old communal land ownership has allowed the island to remain untouched by the global land market, preserving its natural beauty and delicate ecosystem.
The land is not owned by the state, and private property does not exist on the island. Instead, land is collectively owned and managed by the Barbuda Council, ensuring that decisions about its use are made in consultation with the local population.
Resistance Against Colonialism
The history of Barbuda is one of resistance against Western forms of property and subjugation. From the days of the Kalinago, who fought to defend their land against European settlers, to the struggles of Barbudans against brutal enslavement, the island has a powerful legacy of fighting for its communal land. Even after Britain banned slavery in 1834, Barbudans had to fight for their freedom and the right to control their own land. This struggle eventually led to the Barbuda Land Act of 2007, which affirmed the communal possession of the island by its people.
Exploitation and Land Grabs in Barbuda
The Hurricane’s Aftermath
In 2017, Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on Barbuda, causing widespread destruction and displacing the entire population. While the islanders were still reeling from the devastation, opportunistic forces saw an opportunity to exploit the situation. The government and economic allies capitalized on the island’s vulnerability to push through policy changes and advance luxury real estate projects.
The Paradise Found Act
One such project is Robert De Niro’s “Paradise Found,” a multi-million-dollar luxury residential community. Despite widespread opposition from Barbudans, the Central Government designed the Paradise Found Act in 2015 to override the community approval sections of the Barbuda Land Act. This act allowed De Niro’s project to proceed, disregarding the democratic participation of the local population in decisions about land alienation to foreign interests.
The Barbuda Ocean Club
Another development that threatens Barbuda’s communal land is the Barbuda Ocean Club, led by billionaire John Paul DeJoria’s “Peace, Love, and Happiness” partnership. Working with developers Discovery Land Company, DeJoria intends to construct an exclusive US $2 billion luxury residential community on the island’s southern beaches. This project, along with the Paradise Found development, disregards the delicate coastal ecosystem and the rights of the Barbudan people.
The Fight for Survival
Barbudans have not stayed silent in the face of these land grabs. They have filed several court cases against the Central Government, challenging the repeal of the Barbuda Land Act, the construction of an international airport without their consent, and the amendment of the Crown Act, which weakens the Barbuda Council’s jurisdiction over land and resources. However, their fight for justice is complicated by their reliance on a settler court system ultimately tied to external oversight.
Threats to Environmental Integrity
Barbuda’s pristine coastline and delicate ecosystems are under severe threat from these development projects. The excavation of sand for construction purposes, the destruction of mangrove wetlands, and the introduction of sewage and pollutants will have irreparable consequences for the island’s environment. The UN Special Rapporteurs have warned of the threat to safe drinking water, food security, biodiversity, and human rights posed by these projects.
The Importance of Communal Land
Barbudans recognize the importance of their communal land in preserving their way of life and protecting the environment. Unlike other Caribbean islands, Barbuda has managed to limit large-scale built development and preserve its coastline. The island’s agroecological provision grounds and small-scale tourist resorts demonstrate a sustainable approach to land use that respects the delicate balance between humans and nature.
Calls for Action
The international community has a role to play in supporting the people of Barbuda in their fight for communal land and environmental preservation. Human rights organizations, environmental activists, and concerned individuals must raise awareness about the ongoing land grabs and advocate for the rights of the Barbudan people. Pressure should be exerted on the Central Government, developers, and investors to respect human rights and environmental integrity.
The Role of Donors and Multinational Enterprises
Donors to the State of Antigua and Barbuda should pay attention to the implications of the land grabs on Barbuda and the island’s ability to adapt to climate change. Multinational enterprises involved in these projects must take their obligations seriously and immediately halt their activities. It is crucial that these actors respect the rights of the Barbudan people and the delicate ecosystem of the island.
The Island of Barbuda is under siege, with communal land and environmental integrity at stake. The struggles faced by the Barbudan people against land grabs and neocolonial development are not just about preserving their way of life but also protecting the delicate balance between humans and nature. It is essential for the international community to stand in solidarity with Barbuda and support their fight for justice, human rights, and environmental preservation.
If you are interested in protecting your property legally please visit https://www.hishawlaw.com/blog
Jillian Hishaw, Esq., is a MacArthur Awardee, Agricultural Lawyer, Founder, and Director of F.A.R.M.S., an international non-profit and Hishaw Law L.L.C., a virtual law practice. Inspired by her own family’s land loss, F.A.R.M.S., provides technical and legal assistance to small farmers, while reducing hunger in the farmer’s community. Hishaw’s first book, “Don’t Bet the Farm on Medicaid,” examines how U.S. long-term care facilities can exercise their federal authority to place a lien on a resident’s property, if an outstanding debt, is owed.
Hishaw, has over 20 years of professional experience in the areas of civil rights, land protection, and agricultural policy. Her prior experience includes working at local, state and federal agencies on conservation and civil rights matters. In 2017, Hishaw was recognized as a Food Changemaker, by the Clif Bar Foundation and featured in O, The Oprah Magazine, The Atlantic, Vice News, Growers Co., (CAN), and among others. In 2019, the Food Tank organization voted Hishaw, 1 of 15 women in the World Impacting the Food Industry.
Hishaw, has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Tuskegee University, plus a Juris Doctorate and Legal Master’s in agricultural law, from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville law school.
Hishaw is the author of “Don’t Bet the Farm on Medicaid,” “US Farm Tax Credits for all 50 States,” “The History of 50 U.S. State Flags & their Historic Symbolism,” and “Systematic Land Theft” winner of the 2022 Independent Press Award, the 2022 National Indie Excellence Book Award, 2022 NYC Big Book Award and Finalist for the 2022 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.